A group of 9 and 10-year olds were playing in the park.
One of the younger boys had climbed pretty high up on the jungle gym and was trying to show off by making it look like he was going to jump from so high up.
He hadn’t anticipated though that the kids on the ground would start egging him on. “Come on Johnny! Show us if you really are that brave! You’ve gotta jump! Come on!”
Johnny was stuck: if he jumped, he ran a serious risk of injuring himself; if he didn’t, he faced near certain ridicule of the kind only middle schoolers can dish out. “You look sooo scared Johnny! Ha!” And in response to that unbearable truth Johnny jumped the two meters, twisting his ankle, but saving his pride.
In witnessing this banal playground conflict, Marianne Perez de Fransius saw many opportunities for how this bullying incident could have been peacefully transformed.Read more
Johnny could have shown strength through vulnerability by verbalizing that he was indeed scared and that inclusion in his group of peers mattered to him. One of the kids on the ground could have responded with empathy to his fear. Another playmate could have proposed that they come up with a way to get Johnny down safely as a team. Someone could have created a diversion giving Johnny the opportunity to climb down on his own. Marianne herself could have intervened. But it occurred to her that any of these options would require a seemingly heroic effort to overcome the social risks involved.
And that’s when the possibilities of a Peace Superheroes Game began sparking in Marianne’s mind. If kids could summon their inner peace superhero to transform a playground conflict, they could also address conflicts in other contexts using nonviolent means–at home, at school, in the community, and even to address world issues.
That’s where Marianne’s collaboration with Meg Villanueva and Sabrina Patrick-Urrutia became key.
Meg and Marianne met in Romania in 2006, during a peacebuilding youth camp, and have since collaborated on different initiatives related to nonviolent communication and peacebuilding.
Sabrina joined the team in response to a call for partners on the Peace and Collaborative Development Network.
With Marianne based in Maputo, Mozambique, Meg based in Barcelona, Spain and Sabrina based first in Sydney, Australia and now in San Francisco, it sometimes requires superheroic efforts to coordinate Skype calls across time zones and amazing apps (Google Drive and What’sApp) to move work forward.
But the excitement of working on an innovative project which meets at the crossroads of technology, gamification, life skills and character development, behavior change, superheroes, peacebuilding, and nonviolent conflict transformation keeps the team cohesive.
The Peace Superheroes’ first iteration as a comic book only received a lukewarm response. Parents said, “I love the concept of the Peace Superheroes, but my kids don’t read comic books. All they do is play video games. And I really want them to learn these conflict transformation skills.”
And so after a year of minimally successful fundraising efforts and calls for partnerships, the team decided to change mediums and go for a Peace Superheroes Digital Game.
Even though Sabrina was the only one who had a little bit of experience in game development, the benefits of gaming as a great platform to reach children in a fun, interactive and educational way outweighed the concerns.
Through the mentorship process with Games for Change, they won in the UNAOC’s PeaceAPP contest, Marianne, Meg and Sabrina have been coached in how to apply their peacebuilding experience and work with youth to the game design process.
Emily Treat (Games for Change), Andrea Morales (Parsons School of Design) and Rodrigo Davies (Build Up) have helped them fine-tune the target audience, behavior change goals and key design features.
In the coming months, they will begin prototyping The Peace Superheroes Digital Game by testing out challenges such as the “judgment zapping challenge” in which players have to distinguish between judgmental and non-judgmental phrases said by a bully at school. Players earn points for zapping the judgmental phrases and letting the non-judgmental phrases “land”.
They lose points for zapping non-judgmental phrases. This is a core skill in non-violent communication which will be built upon in later challenges.
So far, we’ve had an enthusiastic response from parents, teachers and practitioners in the peacebuilding field.
Anita Frank recently wrote:
“I love your project and I just subscribed to your newsletter. As an NVC [nonviolent communication] practitioner and mom of a 9 year-old boy who looooves video games, I would love to help you out with your project. Wishing you all the best on this project!”